The Next Year

a sparkler burning
Image by KAVOWO from Pixabay

It was an unmagical new year.

The air is thick and heavy with the smell of salt, a humid moisture that seeps into your pores and sticks to the walls of your lungs with each inhale. 

Of course, I’m more concerned about my hair and whether my expensive eyeliner is melting off my face. It’s almost midnight on the first day of January, but the heat is powerful enough to turn you into a melted pile of human sludge. At least, I’m dramatic enough to think so.

Walking beside me is my best friend, Ryker. Next to him is his good friend Chewy who is holding hands with his girlfriend, Millie. Ryker introduced the couple to me less than a year ago, but already we consider ourselves an official friendship group. The Four Amigos: good for beach bonfires, random adventures, and weird conversational topics.

“Did we take a piss underneath that one or a different one?” My best friend is asking Chewy, gesturing toward one of the free-standing gazebos that line the shoreline.

Chewy answers, but I’m no longer paying attention. Instead, I’m looking at the way the street lights ripple across the near-still water of the smelly bay and thinking of the last time all four of us were walking here and I ran into my ex-fiancé. It had barely been three months since our split, and already he was talking to another girl. I remember the way he was standing with her, the same way he used to stand with me, his body language forever familiar to me. I remember I had been thinking of him, and then suddenly he was standing right in front of me. I stopped to say hello, and he looked slightly annoyed, like I was the irritating mosquito-buzz ringing in his ear that he couldn’t get rid of. 

The blue glow of the Lexington pops into my view, and then I’m sad because I remember why I’m here, walking with my closest friends in the sticky, bay-front heat. It’s New Year’s Eve, only a half hour away from midnight, and we’re on an adventure to catch sight of the first fireworks of the new year. There’s a burn ban in effect, and firefighters and patrol cars have been crowding the firework stands all week to discourage any potential violators. The Lexington is the only place we could think of that might legally be putting on a firework show tonight.

But that’s not the depressing part.

The depressing part is that it’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m wandering around the city with the same three friends I always do. Though New Year’s Eve is more of an excuse to party and stay up past midnight for most people, I’ve always regarded the holiday with as much fascination and magnificence as Christmas. Perhaps because my family has always made it something of a big deal. My dad will cook steak, crab, and buttery mashed potatoes for dinner, and my mother will allow us all a glass of champagne once we finish the sparkling grape juice. We’ll sip our bubbly drinks in front of the television, watching as the ball drops in Times Square, counting down as a family all three times the clock strikes midnight. 

New Year’s Eve, for me, has always felt like magic.
It’s the end and the beginning. It’s a mark of transition, a mark of growth and progress, a time to reflect and improvise. It’s also the holiday that marks the halfway point between Christmas and my birthday. It’s a day when total strangers connect, romantically even.

Anything can happen on New Year’s Eve. I always feel as if it’s the day all my dreams will come true. My imaginary publisher will call and tell me I’m officially a New York Times Bestselling Author. My imaginary boyfriend will whisk me off to Paris and propose in a way I never saw coming…

Like I said: magic.

So far, reality has only been disappointing.

When I finally decide to listen to the conversation again, I realize the conversation has matched my thoughts. We’re discussing the possible reasons the holiday has been such a disappointment. We’ve each spent our New Year’s Eve as uneventfully as an ordinary day, working, sleeping, avoiding any official plans. The day simply hasn’t felt very extraordinary, not like a holiday at all.

“Maybe it’s because we’re all older now and we’ve done everything to celebrate over the years,” Ryker suggests.

I think about this. Is it the celebrating we’ve lost with age, or the magic? Children are blessed with uncertainty, but as we age, we learn to expect. And expectations are the murderers of magic. 

We stop walking when we realize that the Lexington doesn’t have any lights on. There would be lights and cars and a lot more people if there were going to be a show of fireworks tonight. So we have our answer. We can return home. 

But we don’t. 

Instead, we throw our plans to the wind and take a seat on the chipped-paint cement steps leading down to the bay, and we talk. We take turns telling our most embarrassing childhood stories. Childhood stories are Ryker’s favorite, and Chewy always has the most hilarious stories to tell. I wind up laughing so hard, my skin turns into gooseflesh, as it always does when I experience an overwhelming burst of positive emotion. For a moment, I revel in the unexpected bout of euphoria.

Eventually, we start the walk back to the car, our topic somehow shifting to the incorrectness of bully stereotypes.

“Bullies are so much harder to detect in real life.” I say. “In movies they’re always incredibly obvious, the chubby emo kids with spiky hair.”

I’m trying to describe the “tough-guy-biker” persona, but the words fail me, and Ryker looks at me as if I’m insane.

“Chubby emo kids with spiky hair? What movies are you watching?” He laughs.

“You mean biker?” Chewy asks.

“Yes!” I gasp, glad to be understood. “That’s exactly what I meant. Biker. They always look like bikers in the movies.”

“How do you mix up biker and emo?” Ryker mocks. “But I agree. Bullies are never as obvious as in the movies.”

As usual, there’s a little mention of the realization of how far we had walked away from my car once it finally comes into sight, and then we get into the car and I drive them home. I drop Chewy and Millie at home first, and I don’t remember what we talk about, but I remember trying so hard not to cry. It’s fifteen minutes until midnight, but my only plans for the night are over. Another disappointing New Years.

As I drive to Ryker’s house, he gets a call from his girlfriend. She’s staying with her girls, and he won’t be able to see her all night. He won’t be able to kiss her at midnight.

Unless I can help.

I offer to drive him to his girlfriend. The night may be a disappointment for me, but it doesn’t have to be for Ryker. 

“Find out where she is.” I tell him. “Then you can surprise her. It’s not to late. Call her back right now! Let’s do it!”

I’m excited at the thought of Ryker, my sweet, adoring, best friend getting to experience a little bit of magic with his girlfriend on this magical, romantic holiday. I’m even more excited that I will have been the instigator of this holiday magic.

But no. 

Ryker can’t call her back, and he can’t surprise her. The girlfriend isn’t the type to think it’s sweet or romantic or magical. She’s the type to accuse Ryker of being needy, and disrespecting her space. 

It’s a disappointing night for him too.

I drop him off, and watch him walk into his house. He disappears and so does any lingering hope of magic. I turn up the music and drive home. Silent. Alone. Ordinary.

But there’s always next year.

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